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Published on December 23, 2020

How To Parent An Only Child: 7 Essential Tips

How To Parent An Only Child: 7 Essential Tips

As a kid, my most far fetched fantasy was to be an only child—not an only child with my real parents but with imaginary parents who put me first in everything, spent all their money on me, and whose lives revolved around me.

I imagined that they would buy me horses, I would live in my own suite in a mansion, and I would have my own maid who would wait on me. Of course, my imaginary mother would be by my side day and night to grant my every wish and dote on me.

This fantasy was obviously far fetched. I grew up in a home with six kids. My parents were loving and wonderful. My fantasy life would have ruined me. I would not have learned life skills such as responsibility, sharing, giving to others, service of others, hard work, or selflessness.

Being an only child may be a dream for some. However, parents must be aware of some issues that are associated with raising a single child. Below are some essential tips for parents.

1. Avoid Overindulging or Spoiling the Child

One of the dangers of having an only child is spoiling them by giving them too much. It is easier to do this when there aren’t siblings in line wanting toys and gifts as well. Having one child makes it easy to overindulge them.

We can curb that tendency by setting limits. Determine how many gifts or a specific dollar amount for each holiday and stick to that limit.

You can also have them earn the things that they want. If they the newest video game, then have them do chores to earn money so they can earn it themselves. This can help delay gratification and teach them the value of earning something they desire.

2. Do Not Treat the Child Like a Fellow Adult in the Household

With only one child in the household, it becomes easy for parents to start treating them as an adult. Around age 8 or 9, many children show maturity and have adult-like behaviors. It becomes easy for parents to embrace this behavior because they understand it. However, the child is still a child, so they need to be treated as one.

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RaisingChildren.net explains that the prefrontal cortex of the brain is not fully developed until adulthood.[1] Even teenagers will act impulsively because their prefrontal cortex is not yet fully developed.

Parents need to understand that impulsive behaviors happen with children because of this. So, we can’t expect children to be adults because they are not there yet in terms of development. Allow them to be children. They only get to be one once in their lives.

3. Socialize Your Child With Their Peers

A research article by Kitzman and Lockwood (2020) in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that children who grow up without siblings are less able to handle conflict with their peers.[2] This is likely attributed to not having regular conflict resolution activities with siblings.

Therefore, socialization with peers is of utmost importance. But even beyond that, parents should allow their children to resolve their own peer conflicts whenever possible. This will teach them how to get along with their peers and resolve conflicts on their own.

Often, parents want to protect their child and will interfere with peer interactions if they see their child is going to be emotionally hurt. Parents should teach their kids conflict resolution skills by talking about how to react in these situations. Teaching them how to deal with their peer conflicts and to only seek adult intervention when necessary (such as the risk of physical harm) is helpful to the child’s social skill development.

4. Set Realistic Expectations

When adults are only raising one child, they can have all of their hopes and dreams wrapped up in them. Parents should set realistic expectations. Children are individuals, and they are not you. They are their own person and as such, they have their own gifts, talents, and abilities that differ from your own. You should assess them on their own abilities, not yours.

Expecting a child to be a super sports star and bound for the ivy league may not be reasonable. Each of them is special and unique.

If someone has four kids, we may see one who excels at sports, another who excels at academics, another who is artistic, and another who is completely unknown in their talents and gifts because they are still young. With an only child, we can’t expect them to fulfill all the dreams, hopes, and ambitions that could fill an entire family of six.

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Seek to find out what your child may be good at in life. They may have certain activities that they excel in and others that they do not. Encourage them in all that they do, but don’t set expectations that are unreasonable and unattainable.

5. Give Them Chores to Teach Responsibility

Having one child makes it easier to do all the work in the household because it is doing laundry and cleaning up after for only one person.

Parents with three kids are more likely to require their children to chip in on household chores out of necessity. One parent can’t keep up with the messes and work involved with a bigger family.

Children who are the only child in a home must still be required to do chores. It will help them learn about responsibility. They will also learn practical life skills such as how to fold laundry, how to properly wash dishes, and how to vacuum and clean the home.

It can be empowering for them to do chores, especially if they are rewarded for extra chores so they can earn things that they want.

6. Don’t Be Their Constant Entertainment

Kids want attention and time from their parents. It is wonderful for parents to give this to their children, but there should be a balance.

If, for example, a stay at home mom has only one child, she is not expected to constantly entertain the child all day long. Parents need time to get their own work and housework completed, along with time for themselves.

It becomes easy for parents to feel guilty about not playing with their child enough, especially when the child is constantly asking for the parent to play. Parents should set reasonable expectations for their kids when it comes to entertaining them.

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For example, the stay-at-home mom may say to her only child, “I am going to play trains with you for 20 minutes and then you can play for 20 minutes on your own while I do the laundry.”

Finding playgroups or moms with children who are similar ages to your own child is helpful. This can help the child with the playtime that they naturally desire with others. When they don’t have peers or siblings to engage in play with, then they do depend on their parents to be their playmates.

Parents can find friends of their child’s own age to provide them with the engagement and play they need and want.

7. Find Activities to Engage Your Child With Their Peers

There was a window of time—before I had our twins and when our foster daughter was no longer living with us—when it was just our own daughter in our home. That was a great opportunity for me to get out of the house and find places and activities that would engage our daughter with her peers.

She was over a year old by that time, so she was ready to play with other children and have activities that would help with her development.

Library Story Time

One activity that we enjoyed was the library storytime. Most public libraries offer programs for parents and their kids. These storytimes often have stories being read along with additional activities that engage the children and require interaction with all of them together. Such activities we have done during the library storytime include parachute time and crafts.

If you are with your child at storytime and they are getting along with other children there, then take the opportunity to introduce yourself to their parent. You can even ask if they would like to get together at a local playground in the future since they play well together.

MOPS

Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) is an international organization. They typically meet at local churches and there are programs for the mothers while the children are cared for together in the nursery. This allows the children to play with their peers while moms can connect with fellow moms. You can find a MOPS group near you by going to the MOPS Website.

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Baby Gym

You can sign your little one up for baby gym classes. There are a variety of businesses that offer programs and classes that are geared specifically for babies, toddlers, and children. Some of these businesses include My Gym, The Little Gym, and Gymboree. These types of locations and the classes they offer provide a great opportunity for children to play with their peers as the classes are typically grouped by age.

Our family has attended classes at three different baby gym locations. My kids loved the activities and meeting with kids their own age. It was also how I met several of my closest friends when our family moved across the country. These ladies had kids the same age as mine, so I invited them to my home for a playdate. I had snacks for the children, coffee for the moms, and the kids had fun playing together in our playroom area.

Don’t miss opportunities to connect with parents who have kids the same age as your own child. You may create some friendships for life!

Other Classes

I have taken my kids to music classes and swimming classes. In both of these instances, they were able to connect with children their own age. Again, it is an opportunity to meet fellow parents, so you can arrange playdates or playground meet-ups with fellow parents who have children the same age.

Some other types of classes and activities that you may find locally—by googling your location and the type of activity—include kid’s yoga, “mommy and me” cooking classes, children’s museum programs, and baby sign language classes.

Final Thoughts

The biggest takeaway for parents raising an only child is understanding that their kid will need socialization with their peers. Since they don’t have any siblings, the parents must get their kids out of the house and find places where they can play with children their own age.

Parents can be intentional about this by seeking out activities and classes that are geared for their child’s age. Then, they can take that opportunity to connect with other parents so that playdates can set up with their new friends in the future.

More Parenting Tips

Featured photo credit: Danielle MacInnes via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

Signs of Depression in Children (And How to Help Them to Overcome It)

Signs of Depression in Children (And How to Help Them to Overcome It)

Children, just like adults, can be depressed. Sometimes seemingly normal children with no major life issues can become depressed. It is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes clinical depression to occur. There are specific signs that you should recognize in your child if they are depressed. Getting them help and treatment is crucial to their mental wellness.

In this article, we will look into the signs of depression in children and how parents can help them to overcome it.

Signs of depression in children

The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder) is the widely accepted instruction guide that professionals utilize for diagnosing mental disorders. The DSM characterizes a Major Depressive Episode as depressed behaviors that consistently last for two weeks or longer. Therefore, if your child has been “down in the dumps”, feeling hopeless or having sadness for more than two weeks, it should be cause for concern and investigated.

Below are signs of depression according to the DSM manual. The individual must have at least five of these behaviors present for a period of two weeks or longer to be officially diagnosed as having MDD (Major Depressive Disorder). Below is a summary/generalization from the DSM manual:

  • Feelings of deep sadness or depressed mood that last most of the day (for two weeks or more). For children they can present as irritable rather than sad.
  • Diminished interest in activities (again majority of the day or all the time).
  • Significant weight loss (not through dieting), or a decrease in appetite. In children, they fail to make expected weight gains while growing.
  • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia).
  • Either a slowing of psychomotor abilities/actions or an apparent agitation of these psychomotor abilities. This means that they either have moments that lack purpose and seem to be done because of agitation and tension or there is a significant slowness/retardation of their speech and physical actions.
  • Fatigue and loss of energy.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt every day.
  • Difficulty thinking, making decisions, or concentrating every day. This may be reflected in their grades.
  • Preoccupation with death and dying or suicidal thoughts.

Please note that if your child is suffering from the loss of a loved one and is processing through the stages of grief, it is normal to have these signs of depression. If they seem to be stuck in the depression stage, then it is time to pursue grief counseling to help them along in the grieving process.

However, if they are not suffering from a bereavement or a medical condition that would cause the above symptoms, then they should be taken to a professional for possible diagnosis and treatment of MDD (Major Depressive Disorder).

How to help your child with depression

Depression is not to be taken lightly. Especially if suicidal thoughts are present. The child’s feelings and emotions are real and must be taken seriously. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), suicide is the number two cause of death for individuals between the ages of 10 and 34.[1]

Professional help is recommended if you believe your child fits the criterion for MDD (Major Depressive Disorder). You can take your child to their paediatrician for an evaluation and referral. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, they may benefit from medication such as anti-depressants.

Most professionals do not dispense medication as the first remedy for depression. Instead therapy is the first line of defense against depression, with medication being paired with therapy if the therapy is not enough or the symptoms are severe enough.

Testing

There are assessment tools that professionals can utilize to help in properly determining whether your child is depressed. The three tools used in assessing depression in children are:

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  • The Children’s Depression Rating Scale (CDRS)
  • Children’s Depression Inventory (CDI)
  • Clinical Global Impression (CGI)

Taking your child to a professional mental health counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist can help ensure proper testing and assessment occurs.

Therapy

There are many types of therapy available today. It is important to find a professional that specializes in childhood depression and the treatment of such.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the leading therapy methods in treating childhood depression. For younger children, play therapy is useful in treating childhood depression as children are often able to better communicate through play than conversation alone.

What parents can do at home to help their depressed child

Besides seeking for professional help, there are a couple of things that parents can do at home to help their depressed child:

1. Talk with your child about their feelings in a compassionate and empathetic manner.

It can feel high pressure to sit face to face and ask your child about their feelings. However, going on a walk, playing a board game or playing alongside your child (chose whichever is age appropriate for your child) can allow them to relax and open up about their feelings.

Ask your child open ended questions that require more than a simple yes or no to engage in more meaningful conversations. Never judge while they are being open and honest with you because it will inevitably cause them to shut down and move away from being open with you.

It is okay to allow for periods of silence during the conversations because sometimes the child is processing their thoughts and emotions during your time together. You don’t have to fill the space and entire time with talking as silence at times is helpful.

2. Provide activities that help them relax and de-stress.

For smaller children, there are simple ways to help them relax.

Provide play opportunities that they find relaxing such as coloring, painting, working with Play-do or clay, or playing with sand and sand toys. Again, find activities that interest your child and are age appropriate are helpful in making them relaxed.

3. Limit screen time.

Technology is not helpful in making your child less depressed. It can often be an escape that keeps them from further opening up about their feelings and emotions.

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Limit time in front of the TV, laptop, smart phone, video games and tablets, etc. Any electronics that seem to prevent your child from face to face interactions should be limited. Ask Dr. Sears cites that researchers have found kids who have higher levels of screen time are at greater risk for anxiety and depression.[2]

Provide alternate activities to replace the screen time such as hiking, crafting, drawing, constructing, biking and playing outside, etc. Some children may be so dependent on their screen time as their source for entertainment that they may need you to participate in alternate activities alongside them in order to get engaged in the activities.

You can’t simply tell your child to go outside to play if they are suffering from depression, lack friends and are used to sitting down and playing video games each day after school. Go outside with your child and do a nature hike or take your child to a playground and have fun together to get them engaged in these alternate activities.

4. Promote outdoor time and physical activities.

Encourage your children to take part in activities that especially involve nature such as nature hikes. Do these activities with them to help them engage in the activities. Again this is an opportunity for open conversations to occur and quality time to take place.

5. Help your child when problems and difficult tasks arise.

Assist them by helping them break down the task into smaller and more manageable parts. Children with depression often have difficulty taking on large problems and tasks and find them overwhelming. Helping them by breaking down the task into smaller and more manageable tasks will assist in helping raise their confidence when the small tasks are mastered.

Small tasks mastered lead to bigger tasks being mastered over time. It is a process over time, patience and a willingness to work alongside your child. This does not mean doing the task or taking on the problem solely yourself. Many times all the child needs is for you to break down the larger task into smaller more manageable tasks and for you to patiently talk your child through the completion of these smaller tasks.

6. Help your child reduce life stress.

When children are depressed, they have greater difficulty handling life activities in general. Cut back on activities that cause stress to increase and look for ways to help reduce stress in your child’s life.

7. Foster a positive home atmosphere.

Reduce or eliminate negative attitudes, language and conversations. Also avoid raised voices, passive aggressive behaviors and any form of physical violence in the home.

Make your home a safe haven for your child instead of an atmosphere that is ever volatile (in words, emotions or physically). Make it a calm environment that makes your child feel safe and secure mentally, emotionally and physically.

8. Help your child see the positive in life situations.

Point out the positives in a situation rather than the negatives. Help them see the bright side of any situation.

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Be a model of seeing the positive in life by speaking words that are uplifting, encouraging and positive. Resist the temptation to voice negative thoughts that come to mind as your child can feed off your emotions and words.

9. Believe your child when they talk about how they are feeling.

Listen to them patiently and take their words seriously. Do not discount or minimize their feelings. Express empathy and compassion when they do open up about their feelings. Help them utilize “I feel” statements in expressing their emotions.

10. Keep watch for suicidal behaviors.

Such behaviors include your child/teen researching this topic online, them giving away their possessions and a preoccupation with death.

Seek professional help immediately with the presentation of suicidal behaviors or thoughts. Keep this number on hand and use it when in doubt: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Phone Number 1-800-273-8255.

11. Keep all prescriptions, alcohol, drugs and weapons locked and away from children and teens.

This is a given for all children, but even more imperative for children who are depressed as they have an increased likelihood to abuse drugs and alcohol. They also have an increased likelihood to attempt suicide. So keep weapons and tools such as ropes and knives that can used for suicide out of the child’s ability to use.

12. Spend quality one-on-one time with your child.

Make the time during your day, every day, to spend quality time with your child. You may have limited time and cannot provide an hour or more a day to dedicate to one-on-one time with your child, but you should provide a minimum of 20 minutes a day with your child spending quality one-on-one time together. Try the suggested activities listed in point #3.

13. Be an encouragement and supporter of your child.

Show love and not frustration or anger because of the situation and your child’s condition. Help keep your attitude positive so your child can also see the positive.

Provide daily words of affirmation that are not based on end results (such as a grade or a win) but instead praise the effort they put forth. If you praise the outcome, they will be disappointed when their efforts don’t pan out. If they are praised for their efforts regardless of the outcome, their confidence is built based upon something that they can control (the effort they put into things).

14. Help your child to live a healthy lifestyle.

Sleep is a very important factor in your child’s mood. Not getting enough sleep can cause an entire day to be upset. According to Sleep Aid Resource, children between the ages of 3 and 18 need between 8 and 12 hours of sleep each night:[3]

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    Ensure your child is eating a healthy and balanced diet, getting physical activity/exercise daily and plenty of sleep time.

    15. Help your child foster positive relationships and friendships with their peers.

    Set up play dates for your younger child and encourage older children to invite friends over to your home.

    16. Talk about bullying.

    It can be one of the causes of your child’s depression, so discuss their life outside of home and their interactions with their peers. Help them recognize bullying and discuss how to handle bullying properly.

    17. Help your child follow the treatment plan outlined by their doctor, counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

    Make sure you know the treatment plan that your child’s health care professional has outlined for child. This may include counseling session recommendations, medications and recommendations to follow through with in the home. Completing the plan will help provide optimal results for your child in the long run. A plan doesn’t work unless it is followed.

    18. Recognize that professional treatment takes time to show results.

    Don’t expect results for the first few weeks. It may take a month or longer, so be patient and understanding with your child.

    Depression in children is curable

    Depression in children can happen for a variety of reasons. It is quite treatable.

    Professional help is recommended if your child can possibly be diagnosed with a depressive episode. There are interventions that can be implemented in a professional setting, at home and at school. The key is having a plan of action to help your child.

    Ignoring the problem or hoping the depression will just go away is not a good plan. Treatment is imperative to curing depression in children.

    The first step is talking to your child’s paediatrician to get the ball rolling. He or she will refer you to specialists in your area that can help your child overcome and conquer their depression one day at a time. With you by their side, each step of the way you will get through it together and it is quite possible for your relationship with your child to be strengthened in the process as well. That can be your silver lining or positive outlook on the situation at hand.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] National Institute of Mental Health: Suicide
    [2] Ask Dr. Sears: It’s a Virtual World: Setting Practical Screen Time Limits
    [3] Sleep Aid Resource: Sleep Chart

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